Azaad (1955)

The best thing about this movie is that stars Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari don’t stab their own eyes out or cry through the whole thing (in fact they don’t cry at all!). It is a real treat to see them laughing and carefree even in a very silly story. Unfortunately much more screen time and emphasis is given to what amounts to the Comic Main Plot, in which a new-to-the-area police inspector (Raj Mehra) tries vainly to get the incredibly dumb head constable Motilal (Om Prakash) to help him solve the many serious (robbery and murder) crimes which have taken place in his locality. These crimes are blamed on two supposed dacoits, Chander and Azaad, whose identities remain mysterious to the police; they are not even sure that Chander and Azaad aren’t the same man.

Motilal’s main schtick is that he has two wives and nine children and is lazy, incompetent and stupid. His relationship with his new Inspector seems to take up about two-thirds of the movie, leaving no room for development of the romance between hero and heroine or a plot that makes any sense. I like Om Prakash and Raj Mehra and all, but it seems like a huge waste of two of the biggest stars of the time!

Shobha (Meena) lives with her adoptive parents Charandas (Bipin Gupta) and Shanta (Achala Sachdev, looking way too young to be Meena’s mother!), who took her in as a child when her widowed father died. Their own son Kumar went missing afterwards, a fact which still of course pains them deeply.

They love Shobha dearly and to their great credit do not want her to marry a wealthy local man who has offered for her, Sunder (Pran). Sunder is—as they suspect—a very bad man and the instigator behind the activities of dacoit Chander (S Nazir), whose spit-curl sideburns and mouche I find adorable.

A small thing like approval from the parents and the bride is not going to stop a man like Sunder from getting married, and he sends Chander off to kidnap Shobha.

In the meantime, Motilal has introduced his new boss to another wealthy but also respected denizen named Khan Sahab (Dilip Kumar). Dilip apparently won a Best Actor award for this movie, which I can only attribute to the numerous disguises that he dons in it since he really doesn’t have that much else to do.

That night, Chander’s men abduct Shobha. As they carry her through the forest they are set upon by another band of outlaws whose purpose is to rescue Shobha. She is assured by their elderly leader (Dilip again) that he will return her home to her parents as soon as it is safe to do so.

He invites her to stay for a few days at his house across the hills and they trek for what seems like hours through forest and vale, interrupted once by stock footage of a leopard and a boar fighting, which only distresses me and doesn’t serve any purpose at all to the plot. I assume that the producer spent a lot of money on such footage (there is more of it later with a tiger fighting a bear) and was determined to use it no matter what.

Anyway, after a very convoluted trip involving an Aladdin’s cave type of stone entrance and a gondola ride propelled by wrestlers, Shobha and her guide arrive at a palace of sorts, where she is introduced to the old man’s aunt Paro and her daughters.

Chanda (Sai) and Gopi (Subbalaxmi) are responsible for two extremely fun dances (the music in this is by C Ramchandra) with a southern flavor (I think this is a remake of a South Indian film). Shobha is surprised when a handsome young man (yup, Dilip) appears and turns out to be the “elderly” man who rescued her.

She is appalled to realize that he is the infamous Azaad, although he reassures her that he and his men only steal from criminals like Chander. And it’s not long (because we have to fit in endless repetitive footage of Raj Mehra telling Om Prakash to shut up, from which I am sparing you) before the two are in love and singing up a storm. Shobha is finally convinced of Azaad’s goodness when he does escort her home, thwarting another kidnapping attempt by Chander and Sunder in the process.

But Azaad is still considered a criminal by everyone else, including Charandas and Shanta. Sunder is not a man to give up so easily either (and Pran’s ability to blow smoke rings is always entertaining).

With the police in this town as inept as they are, does Azaad have any chance of proving his innocence? Who is Khan Sahab? Can Shobha convince her disapproving parents to let her marry a suspected dacoit? Will they ever find their son Kumar?

As much as I love to see Dilip not tormenting himself, and beautiful Meena with this lightness of spirit, I can’t say I really loved this movie. It is certainly watchable, but expectations should be set for a largely unamusing police “comedy” rather than the swashbuckling romance I hoped for; I used the fast-forward button a lot. The songs are pretty but I wouldn’t have minded fewer of them too (may I say though that I am always happy to see a qawwali with Balam!).

Between the time spent running around trees and on quarrelsome policewallahs there is little left over for meaningful character or plot development and it’s a pity.

47 Comments to “Azaad (1955)”

  1. Well, I just love ‘Kohinoor’ with Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari. I’ve never enjoyed them more in any other film, so I think I’d watch this just for them. Too bad it wasn’t better though.

  2. There are rather a few too many songs in Azaad aren’t there? And dare I say? They all sound somewhat alike – all sweet, pretty little Lata ditties! :-) Apparently, CR composed the entire soundtrack for the film in a month – and it shows!:-)

    • Yes, there are three or four of them which are basically indistinguishable from each other :) One would have been enough. I did—as I said—like the qawwali and the two Chanda-Gopi dances (especially the first one) though.

  3. If I remember correctly, Yousuf saab mentioned in an old interview that he did this movie just to get out of the tragedy king title. Amar (1954), Devdas (1957) etc., were all released around this time. In fact, Guru Dutt offered him Pyaasa (1957), but he rejected it just for this very reason.

    • It is too bad he didn’t do more light-hearted roles in his youth, it is fun to watch him having fun!

    • On a related but not exactly contextual note: my father recalls popular reactions when Aan (1951) was released: general horror that Dilip Kumar should have descended to such light-hearted capers! I suppose the Deedars and Andazes and Devdases get to one after a while.

      I wouldn’t mind seeing Azad, though, despite the cringe-worthy CSP (CMP?). If for nothing else, a smiling Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari! They look so beautiful.

    • And thank God for that because Pyaasa defines Guru Dutt and vice versa. Dilip Kumar did tragedy well but Guru Dutt’s portrayal of tragedy (in Pyaasa and Kagaz ke phool) took it to quite another level.

  4. yes this was a remake of the mgr classic malaikannan….since you anyways follow subtitles the original was a better film…though the music of the remake would prob win…

    one of the few films where i liked mgr…

    but both films were good and watchable…this was before meena kumari became a rondoo master…but still effectively hiding the little finger of her left hand…

  5. Personally I love the songs of this movie. The south Indian producer (one Mr SHS Naidu) approached the leading music director of Bombay, viz Naushad to compose the music of this movie (9 songs) within one month. Naushad snubbed him, saying that it was not possible to create 9 songs in one month.Then Mr Naidu approached other leading music directors and they all refused to take up the assgnment. Finally C Ramchandra took up the challenge. He created nine songs within the target period of one month, despite numerous hurdles. One such hurdle was that he was unable to get Talat Mehmood to give playback for Dilip Kumar. Then he himself sang for Dilip Kumar and imitated Talat Mehmood’s voice so well that many industry insiders were fooled. Lyricist Shailendra bet that the male voice in this movie was Talat Mehmood’s only to lose the bet.

    I find all the 9 songs of this movie outstanding.

    I have not watched the movie, but then I normally judge by a movie by its songs :) and I have very opinion of the songs of this movie.

  6. Shailendra lost a bet of 100 rupees to C Ramchandra, a tidy sum those days.

  7. Hi,

    From an article I read years ago, it said that when she was very young she was travelling in a train and when closing the shutters, she damaged her little finger.

    In every movie of hers, she very successfully and cleverly hid her finger on screen and it never affected her acting, it looked so natural and she was never conscious about it. Most people do not realise that she is hiding her finger until someone informs them.

    Another movie of hers with Dilip Kumar is Bimal Roy’s `Yahudi’ – a classic.
    I would love to read your review about it. Hope you won’t disappoint me.
    The movie is available in DVD format and has English subtitles.

    Thank you

    • Even if she didn’t hide it I probably wouldn’t notice anything wrong with it :) I have Yahudi—I do need to watch it one of these days!

      • I am always amazed at how she could synchronize her acting, speaking, dancing with the additional task of hiding her finger.

        Warning, re: Yahudi. The latter part of second half suffers from eye problem :-D
        First half is lighter.

      • Watch “Yahudi”! It is an amazing film. I love the unique Jewish and Roman settings of the plot rather than the usual Hindu or Islamic culture. It is unusual, but it sets up a very poignant and compelling love story, ex: the wonderful song”Yeh Mera Deewanapan Hai.”

        It’s not a “happy” film per se, but both Kumari and Kumar remain alive and together at the end, which is the main thing.

  8. If Dilip and Meena are trumped by the CSP in terms of screen time, surely the audience is being short-changed? I am sure most people would have gone for this film with Dilip-Meena in mind, not Om Prakash/Raj Mehra.

    I think I may have seen this movie many years ago – I vaguely remember seeing “kitna haseen hai mausam” on screen and I know it is from this movie. But I cannot recall anything else about the movie. Apart from “kitna haseen hai mausam”, it has at least a couple of other reasonably well-known songs in “Aplam Chaplam” and “Na bole na bole”.

    I did find Kohinoor ok when I saw it years ago – am not sure I’d have quite the patience for this Dilip-Meena starrer though. Even otherwise I wince at CSPs, I like my stories to move at a certain pace. If the CSP stops being a “side-plot”, it sorts of upsets the compactness of the movie, doesn’t it?

    • I wondered at one point if Dilip and Meena had stopped working on the film and so the director had to fill in for them with Om Prakash and Raj Mehra.

      It’s a very lazy script and the CSP is used to try and cover up plot holes I think. But it doesn’t work.

  9. Aazaad is a very entertaining movie with the enchanting music given by C. Ramchandra. Listening to the songs is a mesmerizing experience even today. Thanks a ton for the review.

    Jitendra Mathur

  10. Jitendra Mathur

    sorry sir,

    i cannot agree with you.

    watching Azaad is not an ejoyable thing at all.i think its not up to the mark.

    i agree with mmany of friends that Kohinoor is classic.

  11. This was one of about 6 different productions (in six different languages) of this story by the South Indian producer. He even made a Sinhala version (Sri Lanka)!

  12. I loved this film when I saw it as a child some 30 years ago, whenit was aired on DD. Everyone was expecting Dharmendra’s Azad which had released around that time.
    Wonder how I would react to it now!

  13. Quite different, those two Azaads!!!! :) It’s not an awful movie, I was just disappointed because it could have been SO GOOD…but wasn’t :( Ah well.

  14. Keep it coming Memsaab, your reviews are entertaining whether the movies are or not :) And the comments from your readers are very illumniating too !

  15. So glad you reviewed this. I’ve been qutie curious about this movie. Azaad has got one of the best synchronized dance numbers ever. Such a joy to watch Sai and Subbalaxmi.
    I’m guessing the Aplam Chaplam song was a big hit because lots ot people know about it.

  16. A couple of weeks ago I read the review of Azaad at Sharmi’s and now here which motivated me to watch the film again.

    I now feel the film was a satire as well as used a lot of symbolism, and that the two policeman weren’t there for csp.
    The dialogue between them was very enlightening.
    The constable’s private life, his reasons for the job and being called 441 was symbolic of the nameless police constables who are more or less similar to this one (even today). Their lacklustre efforts in maintaining law and order, relegating duty to the lower rank, showing people as dead in the official register to end a case, and then they all reappear LOL!
    The constable complaining that ‘all chor uchakke (thieves and swindlers) live in mansions.

    The efforts in catching chander and azaad by the police ran parallel to their exploits.
    Then there is this typical behaviour. The police officer paying his respects to the richest man of the town, and asking for ‘donation’.

    And lastly, the name of the film and the good man – Azaad – which means freedom.
    The film was made 8 years after independence, and I think the film was criticizing the way ‘Azaad’ had to live in hiding while the chor uchakke were ruling the roost.

    Well, I may be seeing too much into this, but I kind of liked it ‘this time’.
    Dilip Kumar was very good as Khan Saheb.
    The romance was secondary.

    I recognized the qawali singers from Barsaat ki raat :)

    • I did get all that from the police story, but it quickly got old and repetitive. It needed to be carried forward too in the actual plot instead of mostly being relegated to comedic dialogue and the plot itself made very little sense…Azaad essentially WAS a thief, the old man at the end admitted as much—they were stealing from other thieves, sure, but not returning what they stole to the rightful owners (until the end). But certainly there was some fun stuff :)

  17. I found Azaad somewhat forgettable, but not the dances. Sayee and Subbalakshmi were wonderful indeed.

    BTW, there apparently are many, many ways to spell those names :)… I spelled them one way before, but now I use the spelling provided by Sayee’s son, who wrote to my blog with a whole lot of information about her last year, several months after her death. (This was in a comment below a post that I had written about the dancers two years earlier.) I found the information to be very interesting, and they also provided contact info (which I never followed up on because I’m not very good at doing that sort of thing – but perhaps other people would like to)…

    • P.S. I don’t know where Tom is right now :) , but I’d also like to recommend his old “Sai and Subbalaxmi” playlist, where he has dances from the Tamil version, Malaikallan, too:

    • Thanks for the additional info, Richard. Those two were so so cute and their dancing just breathtakingly graceful and lively. There are many ways to spell all Indian names, I think :) I use the imdb spelling usually just because it helps keep me consistent, although not always :D

      • The “ksh” in Subbalakshmi is sometimes spelt with an “x”. My name has a “ksh” too (ha ha it is not sophy) and that is how the pandit (priest) spelt it (with an “x”) when I was born. After that my father would pronouce my name with an “x” instead of “ksh”.

        But yes, Indian names are not standardized in Roman script. North Indians write Lata and many South Indians spell that Latha to emphasize the soft “t”. Some South Indians now think it is Latha with an “h”–after seeing the English spelling.

  18. Azaad 1955 is remake of MGR superhit Tamil movie Mallikallan.
    I wonder why did Dilip Kumar get awards for this film as the hindi verion just saw him having fun and in few disguises.
    As far as Dilip Kumar goes, he has been a lucky guy as he got nominated for some of the faltu films he did too.

    err. i pity Rajesh Khanna that Khanna got just 3 filmfare awards for best actor although he gave 80 superhits in his career and 105 classics.
    Rajesh Khanna desreved to get atleast nominated for around 32 movies in his career .

  19. meena kumari was great.the songs too. can someone enlighten me about old time actor smriti biswas

  20. would also like to know about actor kalpana.was in Professor with Shammi Kapur

  21. i am currently watching Tamasha (1952) and have reached half of the movie and and Meena Kumari is so much in joy and joyous love and thought to write to you. I first searched if you have written about movie as i always like to see that first. But now this is my rare chance to recommend you a movie with comedy, beautiful songs, Meena Kumari at her best and Kishore Kumar very young (and first movie as i think) … Dev Anand also is good in the movie.. its beyond classic for Memsaab to see this..

    :) I will wait the day you will write on this movie…

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